November 30 is last day
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Area YMCA has served Atmore and the surrounding communities for more than 23 years. But it won’t make it to 24.
Citing dwindling membership numbers and revenues, as well as the expense of maintaining an aging building and its inherent structural problems, officials of the local organization announced this week that it would close its doors in less than three months.
According to a press release issued by officials of the struggling nonprofit, “Atmore Area YMCA … will cease all operations, including its facilities on 501 S. Pensacola Avenue in Atmore … on November 30, 2018.”
Robert Heard, who chairs the Y’s board as Chief Volunteer Officer, said that the board and management had identified numerous problems over the past few years and had implemented changes designed to help meet the community’s needs.
But, he added, the changes weren’t enough to offset the effects of declining membership and an overtaxed donor pool.
“This is a very difficult time for everyone associated with our Y,” Heard said. “In recent years we instituted a number of changes that improved our YMCA’s efficiency and effectiveness in meeting community needs. Unfortunately, we have not been able to generate financial resources necessary to sustain operations over the long term.”
CEO Paul Chason said 10 of the YMCA board’s 11 active members voted in an email survey, with 9 voting in favor of closure and 1 abstaining. The vote was to have been officially entered into the organization’s minutes during the board’s meeting scheduled for Wednesday, September 26.
“The vote is binding,” Chason said. “The board will just make it official at the meeting.”
As the number of area fundraisers has grown, donors who once supported only the Y now are now being asked to contribute to several different causes. According to minutes of the YMCA board’s September 12 special called meeting, copies of which were furnished by Chason, the organization must receive $100,000 in annual corporate, business and individual donations in order to remain fiscally sound.
“This level of contribution has been proven to be unsustainable,” the minutes read.
Atmore Area YMCA, which presently has 621 members, employs two fulltime and nine part-time employees. The CEO said that’s what bothers him most.
“What concerns me most is our staff,” Chason said. “I’ve talked to all but a couple of the part-time workers. It’s the worst time of the year for this to happen. It’s the holiday season, and (the closure) will create some hardships. It will hurt some more than others, but it will still hurt everybody.”
He added that he and other local Y officials will “try to provide assistance with unemployment or by recommendations to help them move forward.”
Chason pointed out that the financial problems, though they were more than significant, were actually secondary to the difficulties in maintaining the Y’s South Pensacola Avenue facility.
The mammoth building, which once housed Escambia County High School, has become not only a financial drain, but a potential safety hazard.
“It’s not just the money, it’s the facility,” he said. “At some point, it will become a safety issue. We have some structural issues, but I’m not sure of the extent. We’re monitoring some parts of the building, and might have to close earlier than November 30.”
Officials were on the verge of deciding to disaffiliate the Y in May, but a $50,000 donation from Poarch Band of Creek Indians provided enough money to avoid the inevitable and keep the Y’s doors open for a few more months.
Heard expressed gratitude for everyone who has been a part of the Y for the past two-plus decades, especially those who have worked to maintain operations and programs, even as the nonprofit’s financial situation worsened.
“Our YMCA has had the privilege of serving the children, families and communities of Atmore for 23 years,” he said. “We are grateful for the support we have received from our members, participants, volunteers and donors. The board also wants to thank Paul Chason and his team. They have done everything in their power, against long odds, to keep our YMCA going.
“We deeply regret that closing down will affect so many wonderful people.”